Liam Scales performance should make Stephen Kenny weigh up his defensive options

Liam Scales performance should make Stephen Kenny weigh up his defensive options

Irishman Liam Scales started for Celtic in their Champions League opener against Feyenoord.

There was extra Irish interest in Celtic last night as they opened their Champions League group campaign with Liam Scales at centre-half.

The Hoops played their two previous matches with the 24-year-old in defence because of injuries to Maik Nawrocki and Cameron Carter-Vickers, but – even with an Old Firm Man of the Match award in his back pocket – an away game against Feyenoord was the greatest test of the Wicklow native to date.

Celtic found themselves second best for much of the contest and the pressure told when they shipped two red cards in the second half on their way to a 2-0 defeat. The first red card was issued to Scales’s centre-back partner Gustaf Lagerbielke and the second was given to substitute Odin Thiago Holm who only lasted ten minutes before flying into a tackle with his feet off the ground.

Celtic’s struggle though, was not any of the fault of Scales. If anything, his contributions on and off the ball made sure things didn’t get even worse for Celtic – especially in the final quarter of the game.

Liam Scales impresses for Celtic in Champions League.

Scales showed a cool temperament on the ball early on as he zipped clean passes into the feet of midfielders in tight spaces. Ray Houghton even remarked during RTÉ’s commentary just how much confidence Scales’s teammates had in his ball-playing ability.

He finished the game with a passing accuracy of 89% (74/83), which included 5/7 attempted long balls. Time and time again, the Celtic defender was able to advance the ball into midfield but Brendan Rodgers’ side’s problem was their inability to make inroads into the final third.

That meant Feyenoord were able to launch repeated attacks as Celtic transitioned back into a defensive shape – a trend that only grew in frequency in the second half

But Scales was on hand to cut out dangerous Feyenoord passes more than once. He recovered possession five times in total, and mixed with six clearances and one block, it’s fair to say it turned out to be an excellent night of defending from the former Ireland under-21 international.


Pundit Arena’s Ronan Calvert: 

The question on Irish supporters’ lips is whether Scales can now step up to the international plate and give Stephen Kenny something different in his defensive division.

Scales has been involved in Kenny’s squads before but is yet to make his Ireland debut with competition steep at centre-back. His lack of gametime with Celtic also worked against him for the last couple of seasons.

When Scales originally joined Celtic, he was utilised as a left wing-back – the position he made his own for Shamrock Rovers before moving across the water. There would be a view however, that while Scales was good enough to excel at left wing-back at League Of Ireland level, his future lies as a left-sided ball-playing centre-back.

Technically and defensively he is excellent but whenever asked to provide the pace, dribbling and crossing expertise needed to play left-wing back for Celtic, or even with Aberdeen where he spent last season on loan, he only fared okay.

While he is unlikely to displace Premier League players like John Egan or Dara O’Shea in the left centre-back role for Ireland, there is an argument to be made that he would be Ireland’s best orthodox left-back should Kenny move to a 4-3-3 in upcoming matches against Greece, Gibraltar, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

James McClean, Ryan Manning and Callum O’Dowda appear to be preferred as left wing-backs but you would think Scales would bring the most defensive reliability in a flat back-four, while also having some attacking experience to call upon.